On Sherwood Anderson and revision

by look i have opinions

“He knew instinctively whether one of his stories was right or wrong, but he didn’t always know why. He could do what writers call ‘pencil work’ on his manuscript, changing a word here and there, but he couldn’t tighten the plot, delete weak passages, sharpen the dialogue, give a twist to the ending; if he wanted to improve the story, he had to wait for a return of the mood that had produced it, then write it over from beginning to end.”

—Malcolm Cowley

I find this fairly alarming. My approach to writing is similarly clumsy and intuitive, although I don’t claim to have any particular emotional sensitivity or grace. My strong point, if I have one, lies in a more cerebral and analytical realm. I have often had the experience of starting a story from a certain mood, finishing it with a clever and detached flourish, and discovering only afterwards that it rang emotionally false. The only way I know how to fix this defect is more or less the same as Anderson’s.